“Once Upon an Electric Dream feels like a powerful climax that happens at the end of a story. Unfortunately the build up was absent and the information spread throughout was just short of giving me what I wanted… Yet I found myself incredibly invested and despite knowing how the story ends, I want to know more.“
Platform: PC | Release Date: Feb 28th, 2020 | Hours Played: 1
For most people, fairy tales hold a special place in their hearts. Having been rooted within our childhood, it was our first transportation into another world. These days, retellings of these classic tales have become very popular. Due to our desire to explore the depth of the human psyche, our appreciation has gone far beyond the hero saving the day, or the heroine meeting her prince.
Once Upon an Electric Dream is a short visual novel that plays upon this idea, taking inspiration from the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Conventionally, they follow the narrative of a prince saving a princess (who has also been cursed into a deep slumber) trapped in a tower guarded by a dragon. However in this story, the Princess plays the role of the hero, and instead of a castle, her beloved is trapped in a Phantom Prism located in the far end of the galaxy (while also being trapped in a deep slumber).
The game starts off with Rosavel, Princess of Terria, recalling a dream-like memory of a gentle voice speaking to her. She eventually wakes up, unsure of her whereabouts or her memories and has to explore her surroundings begins to recall them. The opening drew me in as not only allude to the main story, but also lightly touches on the theme of dreams. Whether her dream is fictional or a memory, she still has to “wake up”. This creates an ethereal atmosphere, which is further aided by the gentle voice of Phil Avalos.
I really hoped that it would delve into this idea further, but while it did explore this theme throughout the story, in terms of the deeper subtext, it only scratches the surface.
Once Upon an Electric Dream feels like the last chapter of a story. Through Rosavel’s memories, you learn that she is on a mission to save her beloved Zero – a robot banished by her father due to their forbidden love. Rather than be destroyed, she manages to get Zero imprisoned and goes to save him – along with her servant and childhood friend, Miel (who is also the voice that greets you at the start of the game). However, you do not get much details beyond that. When Rosavel awakens from cryosleep, we are not given a length of how long she had been asleep, just that she has done so many times.
Her father also has a role in the story but I only discovered it through the ending credits. He appears as a memory in which they argue regarding her and Zero’s relationship and her role as a princess. However, Rosavel notes that she doesn’t even know if her home planet even exists anymore so this conflict is another thing left unaddressed.
The game is around an hour long and that’s where the core problem lies. Because its length is so short, it doesn’t allow the plot to flesh itself out. It is well-written and the concept is well thought out and intriguing but then it suddenly ends. I was ready to invest myself into learning more of the lore, as well as the driving force behind the characters and their actions. But the game doesn’t give you any further opportunities to go in deeper, allowing you to learn just enough to know the face value of the characters, their feelings and the basis of their personalities.
An example of this is the character of Zero. A sentient AI that comes to to fall in love with Rosavel and it is his exile that begins her journey. By the time we meet him is essentially when the games ends. We only know him through the memory of their first and last encounter with one another, leaving a lot of exploration in their relationship to be desired. What was meant to be a cathartic moment unfortunately did not give me that satisfied feeling. Rather than a reunion, I had felt that I was meeting the character for the first time. Considering the reveal of his backstory, I thought this was going to be further explored and cause a rift in their relationship once they actually met – but I felt as if I held my breath and accidently skipped to the ‘Happily Ever After‘.
There are several endings in the game but only two “true” ends, which are based on the two love interests – although it is easy for them to intertwine into the same/different ending as long as you make sure to choose different options. The options usually stem around Rosavel’s decision to save Zero or to leave him safe in cryosleep forever.
This is where the love triangle between Zero or Miel comes in, as the latter worries that Zero may not be the same person or has been corrupted due to being placed into cryosleep – something that, although harmless to humans, might cause harm to robots. I found that to be a very interesting as the concept of robots and how cryosleep is not something that I’ve personally seen done. But again, this theme is left unexplored as her ending with Zero stops shortly after their reunion. This effectively makes the dilemma in the overaching plot feel less dire.
Because of this, it leads to the romance with Miel to feel deceiptful and less genuine. From the beginning, you can see his dedication for Rosavel. But to get his ending, you have to essentially make Rosavel unwilling to recall her memories or become swayed by Miel’s worries. Knowing already that there is no repercussions, I was left feeling as if Miel was trying to trick you to love him. He even points out himself that she only cares for him because she only remembers him. He ends up feeling like a second choice to Zero (Which sucks because I actually like Miel and we get to know him more.)
I am unsure if this was the intentional but it makes Rosavel seem extremely fickle and flighty in her love. And as much as I preferred Miel, choosing him after having the two journey for many years(?) to save Zero – only to abandon him at the last stretch, feels very lackluster.
In spite of my frustrations with the story and its short playtime, the game does have its merits. The game is fully voiced by some top-notch voice acting which really lends to the immersive nature of the story. I also appreciated the use of a black female heroine as well, as this is something we need to see represented more in visual novels. The character designs are unique, however, the art itself could use some polish as some CGs were disproportionate despite only having a few. There is also a small selection of music (about 2 from what I recalled) but even then I felt that it was used quite well, such as the opening scene which really pulled me in. It shows that you don’t need to have a whole soundtrack in order to make your gameimpactful.
Once Upon an Electric Dream feels like a powerful climax that happens at the end of a story. Unfortunately the build up was absent and the information spread throughout was just short of giving me what I wanted.
Yet I found myself incredibly invested and even knowing how the story ends, I want to know more. The backstory and premise was intriguing and I would have loved to learn about Rosavels position as the Desert Rose of Terria, the way Zero’s meeting changed her beliefs and Miel’s unwavering affections for her. As you can tell, I enjoyed the plot and what I experienced in the game. I just really hope that one day, the developers do decide to go back and really flesh out the story and explore these characters and their world to its full potential.
You can purchase Once Upon An Electric Dream for £2.09/$2.99 on Steam and itch.io
I was kindly provided with a review code by Snowhaven Studios
Please note that this is not factored and the review is 100% my honest opinion.